The Flipped Classroom: A Disruptive Revolution In Pedagogy, or Yet Another Educational Fad?

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Education columnist Rebecca Schuman @ Slate posted a piece on flipped classrooms yesterday.  The article is well written and brings up some good points, though at times I think the “flipped model” she describes become a bit of a straw man.  She writes:

If you are in college, I don’t mean to alarm you—but you are probably being experimented on. Stop checking for both of your kidneys; it’s not that kind of experiment. But chances are, one or more of you courses is currently being administered upside down, or “flipped.” Everything is backward: The lecture is assigned as homework! The “homework” is completed in class! The sun revolves around the Earth, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

While there is no single model, in order to consider itself flipped, a course has to assign as homework what’s usually administered in person, often the lecture. This frees up classroom time to do what the homework would normally be—usually problem sets, now completed in teams or individually, with the instructor flitting about the flipped classroom, aiding the flummoxed with a flourish.

Her second paragraph sets up the strawman.  She describes the model (“a course has to assign . . .”) while stating “there is no single model.”  You have to love her last sentence about the instructor “flitting about the flipped classroom, aiding the flummoxed with a flourish.”  This absolutely could happen, and it reduces the instructor to being a help desk.

I am not a purist on flipped classrooms.  Maybe I am more for a “shaken, not stirred” classroom proponent instead of a flipped classroom supporter.  My “flipped” model would include anything that has the students taking more responsibility for their learning, differentiates instruction to assist those who need more help, leaves lower order thinking skills activities for outside the classroom, and allows the instructor to use class time to work on higher order thinking skills.  Recorded lectures are no more engaging than live lectures, especially when one is just lecturing the textbook.  Key point lectures on supplemental material and on more difficult topics yes, but not hour long textbook lectures.  Technology can be leveraged to ensure students have read the textbook (or other materials) outside of the classroom.  The quiz or test tool in any learning management system can do this for the instructor.  These can be low-stakes, multiple-attempt quizzes, or as I like to call them “study guides.”

The list of things that can be implemented is endless, as is the supply of free content that can be utilized for classes.  Not every flipped classroom has to use time-intensive and expensive lecture capture solutions.  An existing learning management system and free content and/or tool will work fine for most faculty.  Do not fall for the “model” flipped classroom that “requires” anything.  The key, I believe, is to use all means necessary to reach those who need help meeting the learning objective for the course, and cut out anything that students can do on their own, especially if technology can be leveraged to check their achievement.


Rick W. Burkett runs the John A. Logan College Teaching and Learning Center, teaches history, and heads an educational nonprofit. He publishes blogs on a wide variety of topics, including history, teaching and learning, student success, and teaching online.
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